Kou Kitamura is a fifth grader whose family runs a sporting goods store. One of the regular customers of his family's store is the Tsukishima Batting Center, and so he gets to know the four daughters of the Tsukishima family (Ichiyo, Wakaba, Aoba, and Momiji) very well. Since Kou has spent so much time practicing in their batting cages, he has become a genius hitter, but has no knowledge of any other aspect of baseball. This is in contrast to Aoba, who, despite being a year younger, is an adept pitcher and hitter. Wakaba is a classmate of Kou's, and she seems fully intent on marrying him when she grows up. All seems idyllic in their world, until tragedy strikes. The story then skips ahead to four years later, as Kou has continued the training he began four years ago, but has not played in a baseball game since. As he finally begins playing again, it remains to be seen whether or not he will live up to the expectations of those who know the true talent he has been hiding all this time.
The first volume of manga is one of the very best I've read among all the manga I've read. Adachi does an amazing job of building up the relationship between Koh and Wakaba, showing little details that make you sure they are right for each other, even at a young age. He does an even better job of showing just how jealous Aoba is of all the time Wakaba spends with Koh. Then tragedy strikes.
Adachi's portrayal of all the different reactions from family, friends, and acquaintances is spot-on accurate.
The interplay between the characters often leaves you guessing
about Adachi's final plans for the series, but that's a good thing. As I've read almost everything by Adachi, I was able to guess correctly about how the main characters would end the series, but Adachi did throw a few curves in the middle of the series which left me guessing. The ending was not contrived, however, and it left me feeling satisfied (in stark contrast to how I felt when I finished the "H2" manga).
The artwork shows Adachi's further progression in style beyond his previous works. While remnants of his overall feel from works such as "Nine" and "Touch" still remain, his style has matured quite a lot since then. I still enjoy his soft lines and effective portrayal of emotions and action (including his often-included comedic action).
All of the main characters were very believable, and most of the supporting characters were good as well. The only character who didn't seem to progress or grow much was Senda. While he matured a little as a player, his personality showed little change or maturing from junior high through high school. This is the main reason for the less-than-perfect rating for character.
Overall, I really enjoyed this series, and I've added it to my list of all-time favorites. If you enjoy romantic comedies (with some baseball thrown in for good measure), I highly recommend this series. Even if you don't generally go for sports manga, try this one out and you may very well be surprised and grow to like it. The baseball is used only as a setting for the overarching romance (even though you can tell Adachi really loves his baseball).
Go. Read it now. I think you'll like it.
(edit) Some idiot complained about me revealing something which happens in the FIRST EPISODE, how the main characters deal with that, and me talking about how the main characters have a goal to get to Koushien. Hopefully the review still makes sense, since it now likely doesn't flow as well as it used to. Chalk it up to over-sensitive pansies who think any plot detail is a spoiler.
Cross Game is a 17 volume manga written and illustrated by Mitsuru Adachi, serialized in Weekly Shonen Sunday from 2005 to 2010, and animated by Synergy SP from 2009 to 2010. It’s a psychological comedy slice of life that happens to have lots of baseball in it, as it chronicles the tale of 4 high schoolers still reeling from a tragedy that took place years ago.
Cross Game is invariably clever and heartfelt. While many series struggle to keep a consistent quality and tone throughout their run, especially for a series this long, Cross Game manages to not drop for a second. While it does have
particularly stand out moments, as is inherent in a story, the quality and interest curve is always consistent. Every work of art makes a promise to you the second you start it regarding its quality, and Cross Game sticks to that promise.
Let’s talk about what it does right, shall we? Cross Game’s dialogue is stellar. It comes off extremely natural, and the comedy avoids anime faces or over-the-top expressions of tsundere anger; instead, relying on humor that you’d hear in real life, usually being little cracks at one another or a sarcastic quip about the, usually tough, situation the characters are in. Additionally, the dialogue is also rich with subtlety and nuance, and while it can be occasionally overbearing, most of the time, it’s just thoughtful, realistic, helpful and, on occasion, emotional and powerful. And, of course, the quality of the conversations adds even more to the strength of the cast
Cross Game has an excellent cast of loveable characters, who all deal with grief, loss and high school drama in possibly the most respectful and life like way I’ve ever seen in fiction; yet still manage to keep living life because that’s just how it works. First is our protagonist, Kou Kitamura. Kou is a witty jokester, with a crazy arm for baseball, a lethargic attitude towards everything but the things he cares about, but a burning passion for the things he does. Kou’s interplay with Aoba leads to their simultaneous growth to becoming more mature people, who, more importantly, know how to express their emotions fully and articulately. Kou is also a really nice guy; but not in the traditional sense. For example, characters like Sunakawa from Ore Mono or Ryuuji from Toradora are so nice that they no longer feel like people. Kou, on the other hand, is loving, keeps his promises, sticks to his goals, and cares deeply for his friends and family; however, he still cracks somewhat rude comments, plays pranks, and makes rash decisions.
Aoba Tsukishima is the deuteragonist and one of the best tsundere characters in the medium; up there with Asuka herself. She has a lot of trouble expressing how she really feels, sometimes not even knowing herself what she truly think; however, it’s all believable, due to the extremely poignant prologue arc, which gives context to Kou and Aoba’s emotions and development.
Wakaba Tsukishima is an energetic genki girl, but, as with Aoba and Kou, one of the best examples of said trope I’ve ever seen. She’s overall pretty happy and energetic, but she’s also down to Earth, a bit of an asshole at times, and occasionally even taunts and fucks with Kou and Aoba. She manages to be an uplifting genki girl, while also feeling realistic, which is a godsend within itself.
I’d go over every character, but that would be wasting my time and yours, because, as is probably clear by now: Every character in Cross Game is an archetype on paper, but is such a refined and sensible version of said archetype, with tons of subtlety and clever dialogue, that their seemingly generic origins mean nothing.
Insert segue to talking about art… it’s time to talk about the presentation! The manga for Cross Game has very dynamic baseball scenes, using harsh lines and detailed backgrounds. Unfortunately, early on, the characters have a horrendous case of same face, leading to some pages being flat out confusing. However, everything is still very well drawn and detailed.
Did I mention that Cross Game is a romance? Well… it’s a romance! It’s so slow building and subtle that you might not classify it as one at first, but it certainly is, and one of the best romances out there. With truly heartfelt and touching moments, but ones that aren’t over the top at all. Stuff like going to the movies, getting a picture taken, quick sentences and silly little interactions make up the bulk of the romantic moments in Cross Game; rather than the typical “holding up a stereo and blasting ‘the song’ in the streets” route that most fictional romances walk.
Speaking of subtly presenting the most impactful moments, Cross Game does that a ton. Nearly all of the best moments in the series are events that would be glossed over in most series. And Cross Game sneaks these moments in with such grace and finesse that it feels totally natural within the narrative, something I can’t say for most works of art, especially anime and manga.
With all of this praise to the narrative of the series, you would expect me to lament about the baseball itself being boring and bringing the series down heavily, right? Wrong. Cross Game’s baseball games succeed in every way possible, with striking art, tons of emotional weight and tension, along with characters that totally deserve the level of skill they’ve achieved. While the opponents are usually rather 1-dimensional, it works because the games was never the point. The fact that they are so great is just the cherry on top.
Thematically, Cross Game focuses on the reactions people can have to grief, and how traumatic experiences shape people for the rest of their lives. Each character reacts in their own way, and it’s done with a lot of respect and tact.
A lot of my reviews have been talking about endings that are epic, mind blowing and instantly gratifying. Cross Game’s ending is not that. It’s a very solid, well written, thematically conclusive finale with a lot of emotional weight to it. It’s not a Gunbuster. Or a Katanagatari. Nor a Tatami Galaxy, a One Punch Man or an Ashita no Joe. No. Cross Game’s ending is Cross Game’s ending. Amazing? Definitely. Just don’t expect something that’ll make you collect the scattered pieces of your brain from across the country. It certainly is a conclusion that you need to think over to realize the beauty in, but, damn, it is certainly beautiful.
I think what I said in my original post on the series is apt: “Cross Game is a triumph. It’s the magnum opus of a master storyteller who’s been refining his craft for 30 years to make this one series.”
Adachi Mitsuru is popular for his sports dramas from Touch to H2 to Katsu! Cross Game though is his best work to date. Although some purist may disagree, to me, he learned from the faults of Touch and H2 to create a much more compelling and complete story with Cross Game. I read this from a different point of view (perhaps do to the lost of my sister at a young age) and saw it as more than just a sports drama.
Cross Game may have Baseball as the base of its back ground, however the story is about how the short life and the death
of a young girl affects a community of people. This affect not only drives the characters that knew her in life but also those who fall into the fold of her dream afterwards. Cross Game shows that a life, no matter how short, can have a great impact.
The story itself gets caught in its back ground at times, making it appealing to any sports drama fan. The Baseball itself is well illustrated as you would expect from Adachi who has decades of experience at it, this experience really shows. Yet, while the sports side of it is far from neglected it never loses sight, nor allows you to lose sight of the story that is begins to tell. Cross Game is a master piece in that way, it caters to his core audience while bringing in new readers who may not have been interested in his other works. By that I mean even though she dies you are never brought to far into the baseball aspect to forget Wakaba’s presence and her affect on the story and the other characters. Do to this I by no means see her as just a minor support character but as the driving character, without her there simply is no story.
The art work is vintage Adachi, which to me is a good thing. I also enjoyed his work and, while it has gotten cleaner, it remains true to his style. The story has many faucets and does not get hung up at any point, flowing perfectly through. The overall feel of this manga is one of completeness and a near perfection of Adachi’s story telling. It is one of only two manga that I have given a perfect 10 to date.
If you have never read or watched Cross Game I would strongly recommend that you do. This is without a doubt (at the time of writing this review) my favorite manga and anime, the only story which I have given a perfect 10 for both mediums.
For those who watched the Anime: There are some small details (I.E. Mizuki reading Aoba’s diary before disappearing) that do not get used in the anime. However, the anime is quite faithful to the manga and if you have watched it you will not have missed anything major.
The problem with sports manga is that if you are not very familiar with the sport itself you might not even bother looking into it. I used to have a similar problem and I don't even know what made me open up the first volumes of Touch but I can say that I would never regret that decision. Similar to Touch, Cross Game is a manga that one can enjoy without having any deep knowledge on baseball as the story is not about sports but a young boy trying to find his true feelings while growing up and trying to fulfill the last dream of
his lost childhood love.
The story itself is very similar to Adachi's other works and to be honest it is extremely easy to predict. But as the manga is a romantic slice-of-life in nature the focus is not on the plot but on the relationship of the characters and on how these relationships unfold.
Adachi Mitsuru is a master of storytelling and Cross Game is really easy to read. The author maintains a very smooth flow, keeps a balance between image and text and makes the conversations very easy to follow. He often makes transition between two scenes by putting between them a sentence that can fit into both contexts. His humor is very innocent and the drama has a really powerful impact most of the times.
The character art really brings back the old 80s of Touch. Adachi's drawing of a baseball player's body is very proportional and realistic. He can draw a face bearing infinite amount of expressions however his palette feels a bit limited and he often struggles finding a new face for a new character. His characters might seem to be really simple but his sceneries of the urbanistic Japan is most of the time mesmerizing. I was really surprised to see so much detail in a high school building or a school yard.
As stated before the story is not about baseball but Kitamura Kou's development as the main character. Even though his love for Wakaba feels to be evident, it is hinted throughout the whole story that he also holds feelings for Aoba. Kou's love for Aoba might be not noticeable for the reader but then again there are times when even he doesn't know what he really feels. He cannot realize his true feelings and he is not being honest to Aoba which puts him into a love-hate relationship with her. These restrictions can be only lifted by fulfilling Wakaba's last dream which is Kou's biggest responsibility towards his childhood love. At the end where Aoba says she hates Kou she refers to him being dishonest during all those high school years.
Compared to other Adachi works the author puts a lot of focus into his main character this time. Aoba's development is really neglected and the whole story feels rushed. Mizuki's and Risa's character are ignored. It is as if they were introduced to be huge contenders in a love triangle but the author forgot they existed by the middle of the story. There were many other characters who could have gotten a bit more detailed background like the Azuma brothers, Akane or Mishima Keitarou.
Ultimately I think that Cross Game was an extremely enjoyable read even though the story felt rushed and some of the characters lacked detail. The manga had numerous flaws but Adachi's style and writing could make up for it. This work was a true emotional rollercoaster leaving a huge emotional impact in me. It is a work I can recommend to anyone without any hesitation.
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